PRAGUE, Czech Republic If the Strokes were feeling a little homesick when their tour pulled into this Central European city Friday night, they may have found some comfort in the fact that their audience was chock-full of ex-pats. That is, if they noticed.
And it's unlikely they did, unless the New York rockers strolled through the crowd at Palac Akropolis before their show and heard fans conversing predominantly in English. Americans and Brits made up the bulk of the crowd, as if their friends from back home had told them about the New Big Thing from the Big Apple but the buzz hadn't yet reached the natives.
In truth, the Strokes who are known for their aloof attitude onstage looked particularly standoffish and bored in Bohemia, appearing like they just wanted to get through the set so they could go drink beers back at the hotel. (They didn't play an encore, though that's typical Strokes). It may have been simply road-weariness, or perhaps the band was feeling uninspired because many of the venues it plays these days are double the size of the 700-capacity Akropolis.
But the Strokes' disinterested demeanor didn't deter the crowd's enthusiasm. The audience fervently embraced every second of the hour-long performance, going particularly nuts over such tunes as "Last Nite," "New York City Cops" and the show-closing "Take It or Leave It." The band's pounding, repetitive rhythms made for a lively but relatively civil mosh pit that mimicked the printout of an EKG machine monitoring a massive coronary.
The quintet got things off to a fresh start with the unreleased "Meet Me in the Bathroom," and a few songs later pulled out another, as-yet-untitled newbie, a droney number that includes the lyric "I never needed anybody."
Clad in a black marching-band jacket over a T-shirt and pants, scrawny singer Julian Casablancas chain-smoked, stared blankly ahead and gripped the microphone like he was relying on it to help him stand up. Clear of studio trickery, his voice sounded more distinct and charismatic than it does on record, showing only lighter shades of Lou Reed. He rarely addressed the crowd, except to say "thank you" a few times and to praise openers Stereo Total, a German-French duo whose set included a cover of Salt-N-Pepa's 1987 hit "Push It" pared down to just keyboards, vocals and pelvic thrusts. "Stereo Total's f---in' cool," Casablancas proclaimed.
Floppy-haired guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. occasionally pulled out some rock star moves as he strummed his Stratocaster, while bassist Nikolai Fraiture and guitarist Nick Valensi rocked standing still with heads down and Fabrizio Moretti reflexively assaulted his drum set. Though the band picked up momentum as the show went on, "New York City Cops" seemed to be the turning point when both the Strokes and the crowd kicked into high gear. The number, which came fifth in the set, saw both Casablancas and Hammond dropping to their knees as the song came to a climax. "Cops" was cut from the U.S. release of the Strokes' debut, Is This It, in light of September 11, but it appears on the album's overseas version and on last year's EP The Modern Age.
"They're better than anyone can imagine," said Zack Kafitz, a 21-year-old college student from Minnesota who is studying in Prague. "In two years they're gonna be the biggest band alive."
The Akropolis gig was the 10th show of the Strokes' European tour, which continues through the month. The band will return home in April for performances on "Late Show With David Letterman" and at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (see "Strokes, Perry Farrell, Cake, More Join Coachella Lineup").
Read about all of the shows we've recently covered in Tour Reports.